David Curl writes from Darwin:

Right now, the Darwin Parliament is the scene of an extraordinary debate: a Vote of No Confidence in the NT Government brought about by the fiery yet somehow-rather-predictable-from-the-start resignation of Minister Alison Anderson.

Conservative independent Gerry Wood has just delivered the verdict that will save Chief Minister Paul Henderson from ignominious defeat, just one year on from Henderson’s last extremely premature election. And it comes with a long list of demands that makes one wonder who will actually be the Chief Minister between now and the next election scheduled for the fourth Saturday in August 2012.

It may well be that Paul Henderson has been saved by his decision (as advocated in Crikey before the election) to establish fixed-term elections immediately after he scraped back into power last year with the narrowest of majorities.

No-one wanted to be seen as responsible for sending Territorians back to the polls so soon after the last. And the uncharted constitutional territory of a handover of power mid-term was probably just one factor too many for Gerry Wood, preferring a peaceful transition to his role of major powerbroker in the NT.

Perhaps the most extraordinary part of this saga, though, lies in the role of the media. Minister Anderson was the second of two indigenous Ministers to resign from the ALP and become an Independent in recent months, though Marion Scrymgour used Anderson’s more recent defection as an opportunity to creep back into the fold.

Both former Ministers cited not some major policy issue, but a newspaper article they took offence to in the NT News, as the actual catalyst for their resignations. The NT News, you need to understand, is not just any old newspaper. It’s THE Darwin newspaper, widely-read and playing a more pivotal role (clearly) in the politics of the Territory than you’d expect of any single metropolitan newspaper.

Both offending articles were written by senior journalist and some-time Chief of Staff Nigel Adlam who just happens to be married to Chief Minister Henderson’s Media Advisor, Andrea Adlam. With such a hotline to the Chief, it’s little wonder that Nigel Adlam’s stories have such an impact. Though, surely, it’s a relationship that should be the subject of more intense scrutiny given the impact of this particular newspaper and the ALP’s notorious media management skills.

This whole debacle adds one more question to the list that needs to be asked of Territory politicians. If the Territory is so small a place that it’s OK for a Chief of Staff of the Territory’s primary newspaper to be the partner of the Government’s chief media spokesperson, and where elections in all seats are determined by so few votes that they can swing so violently from one side to the other, perhaps the Territory is too small to have a Government at all?

Can we, in fact, really justify three tiers of Government to oversee a population somewhere in size between that of Geelong and Wollongong?

Meanwhile, Bob Gosford writes from Alice Springs:

Henderson’s government has been riddled by infighting and defections since it was re-elected with the slimmest of margins in an unnecessary and ill-advised election almost a year ago to the day.

This latest — and almost fatal — disaster was wholly the fault of Henderson and his poor management of Aboriginal issues. First, as Crikey reported in February this year, Deputy Chief Minister Marion Scrymgour stood down because of ill-health, later to spit the dummy and walk to the cross-benches as an independent.

Just ten days ago Scrymgour rejoined Labor on the day that her replacement as Indigenous Affairs Minister, Alison Anderson, quit it and indicated her support for a change of government.

For a day or so, many thought that Anderson’s defection would result in either a fresh election or, as Crikey now appears to have wrongly predicted on Monday, a deal that would see a bloodless coup, with the CLP opposition being gifted power by a Labor party staring down the barrel of political oblivion and desperate to hold onto its twelve seats until the next election due in 2012.

But Anderson’s two extraordinary statements appear to have fundamentally changed the prospects for the opposition Country Liberal Party’s not unreasonable expectation that they would be on the government benches as a matter of course by the end of this week.

The day after she left the Labor government, the ABC reported that:

Ms Anderson says Mr Henderson’s days in power in the Territory are numbered.

“I think the ALP is dead, I think he is just holding onto power and that is the very reason they ran back and got Marion Scrymgour,” she said. “He’s a dead man walking.”

The next day Anderson, speaking about the (then) scheduled resumption of parliamentary sittings on Tuesday this week, told the ABC that:

“Tuesday will be the biggest day in Territory history,” she said.

“Let’s all wait until Tuesday. I think it’s going to be the greatest gift to Territorians.

“It will be the greatest surprise to Territorians. I’ll leave the surprise as a whole package.”

But Anderson had spoken too soon and her predictions of a “great surprise” — at least one that saw her cast as the saviour of parliamentary democracy in the NT — would come to nought. Other more reasoned and considered forces were in play.

By Friday, Country Liberal Party Opposition leader Terry Mills presented Speaker of the NT Legislative Assembly Jane Aagaard with a letter signed by thirteen MLAs (11 CLP members and Anderson and Wood) seeking that the parliament sit for two additional days this week in order that a “want of confidence” motion in the Henderson Labor government be put to the Assembly.

Speaker Aagaard approved that request and Mills presented a notice of the motion that Henderson’s government “…no longer possesses the confidence of this Assembly” on Monday last, with three cooling off days until the Assembly resumed earlier today.

Anderson appears to have fundamentally misread her fellow independent Gerry Wood, presuming that he would support her in toppling Labor and installing — either by election or by a deal on the floor of the Assembly — Mills and his CLP party as the new government.

But, in this matter at least, Wood has always been aware that his primary responsibility as a politician is to ensure the stability and continuity of government.

Last Friday Wood spoke to Melinda James on the NT’s Stateline program:

MELINDA JAMES: What are you weighing up in your considerations. What sort of thing will be the deciding factor for you?

GERRY WOOD: The deciding factor would be if I go one way or the other will I actually produce stable government, that’s one of the key things.

MELINDA JAMES: Well, can I ask you do you think a coalition that includes the CLP, Alison Anderson and yourself would produce stable government?

GERRY WOOD: That’s exactly what I’ve got to weigh up, that’s…

And Wood expressed his concerns about the CLP’s capacity to provide stable government:

MELINDA JAMES: You’ve said you have some misgivings about handing power to the CLP because there are a few, quote “loose cannons” in their side and that concerns you?

GERRY WOOD: Oh yes, I haven’t always got on very well with the CLP. If anyone knows the history of my time on the Litchfield Shire Council, I had many, many arguments with the CLP.

GERRY WOOD: Well, I want to make sure that some of the issues that I had in those days are not repeated by some loose cannons.

As Crikey noted as long ago as February this year:

Anderson … is widely regarded as a loose cannon perhaps more closely aligned to the CLP Opposition than to the centre and left of NT Labor … there is the very real threat that she could jump ship, either as an independent or to surface as a member of the CLP, and force a change of government.

Anderson’s comments and behaviour over the last week ruined the CLP’s chances of success today and she presented Gerry Wood with a definite answer to his question as to who may best be able to provide stable government in the NT.

It’s a no-brainer really — while Henderson’s government has been a mess it is a far more attractive proposition than a CLP government that includes, or has to rely upon Alison Anderson.

There will be tears and recriminations all around. Henderson won’t lead his party to the next election and will be rolled by Treasurer Delia Lawrie some time in the very near future. And the likelihood of Terry Mills still leading the CLP by year’s end is a diminishing prospect — there is, at least, a trio of likely challengers for his job.

And Alison Anderson? As Kim Hill, the CEO of the country’s most powerful Aboriginal representative body, the Northern Land Council said earlier this week in this statement that called for her to resign from parliament immediately:

Ms Anderson’s selfish actions and self indulgence has delivered instability and chaos — not “peace, order and good government”.